Over the Andes and Under Puyehue (Mount Doom)

23 12 2011

Last evening Angelique and Eray found a dance production of Evita in Bariloche. I opted to recharge myself with an early evening free of partying! I awake refreshed and replenished. Opening the window of my room, I notice things have changed. The blue sky is gone. It is replaced with a gray haze. Uh oh. Shifting winds have carried ash from the Puyehue volcano to this pretty city.

We’re driving to Chile. Saskia has us loading the bus at 7:00 a.m. because she wants us to get to the border ahead of any crush of vehicles wanting to get through passport control and customs. Little did we know how great a decision that was, but not for those reasons! Mount Doom had other plans today.

Our trip originally called for a flight from Bariloche. But Puyehue erupted massively June 4th, sending ash 30,000ft high, and has been been active ever since, closing regional airports due to airborne ash.

So our itinerary was re-arranged so that we would drive over the Andes and fly from Puerto Montt, Chile. Volcan Puyehue is legendary. It is part of a volcanic region called the Puyhue-Cordon Caulle Volcanic Complex. This is a group of four Andes volcanoes known to be dangerous. One of the volcanoes, Cordon Caulle, erupted immediately after the Valdivia Earthquake in 1960, which was the largest ever recorded.

As the volcano is no joke, we want to get across as soon as we can. Ash can cover roads, and its dust can clog auto engine intakes. We drive into the Andes, and the higher we get, evidence of the summer’s activity is everywhere.

For those whose businesses depend on tourism, the volcano is a disaster. We pass countless empty lodgings.

Where once vacationers thronged to enjoy the lovely setting, these places stand quiet under a deepening blanket of gray/white fluff.

As we drive ever higher, each passing car throws out a cloud of gray behind, making driving increasingly challenging.

Piles of ash lay like 12-foot high snow drifts on the roadside.

Beautiful alpine lakes with pretty resorts are covered in ash. It’s amazing how it looks like snow.

And it’s all from Puyehue, which was dormant for nearly a generation. Her full fury was captured by photographers early in June…

Truly Mordor's fury

We passed through the Argentine side, then headed 30 km distant to the Chilean border checkpoint. This “no man’s land” was truly an ash-mess, and we hurriedly dove to get through. Once cleared customs on the Chilean side, I looked up into the gray and saw a sinister darker cloud rising through…this turned out to be increased activity today! And they closed the border right behind us!

Just above the passport office!

We thanked God we left early today because nobody else was going across. Along the descent into Chile, we continually marveled out the back window at the spectacle happening above.

I had never driven through ash, let alone witnessed a volcanic eruption. Our drivers were not about to stop to let us take pictures!

As we arrived in the valleys in Chile, things settled down quite a bit. We could see Puyehue pushing her smoke into the sky behind, and yes it was good to be beyond it.

Going further and further into Chile, it’s amazing how different the environment is! Instead of so much arid climate, which starts 20 miles to the east of the Andes, Chile is lush. There is green undergrowth and overgrowth everywhere. Lots of ferns. Philodendrons.

We reach a valley and lake. Down here, Chile is characterized by green pastures peppered with cows and other livestock.

Things look good here!

We stop for a bite to eat. Saskia orders, guess what? Ham and cheese for everyone, which I decline. But there are locals having some delicious-looking meals! I see giant mussels. Our drivers get plate-sized fish and veggies/potatoes. Someone else has a fantastic looking stew. So, they have food options here! I see something irresistible, a kind of pie which is a kiwi type. I order it, and it is GOOD! Viva Chile!

Chile is truly the land of volcanoes. One we pass is particularly beautiful, it is called Osorno. It’s nearly perfectly cylindrical…

As we enter Puerto Montt, the city itself is dominated by the Calbuco volcano.

At Puerto Montt, we reach the Pacific! Yes, that’s right. When we get to Puerto Montt, we have crossed the continent!



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